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I asked my 7 year old if he thought birthday parties were different in Mexico than in the U.S. He said, “Totally”. Sweet, I thought, some food for fodder…
Thanks for the insight, love. I will argue, however, that is the cool thing with kids – they take it as it comes, and assimilate instantly. The clowns, the piñatas and cascarones, mordita (for sure) are as much a part of their repertoire now as the traditional ‘cake and ice cream’ in America.
Anyway, a gorgeous birthday party is why we’ve now spent so much time in Mexico: thank you to Olivier for turning 4 years ago. At his party, we were welcomed as complete strangers and introduced to friends. We shared a slice of life that day touched with sweetness and frivolity, but underscored in tradition, that made us hunger for more. Seriously, was this how other people lived?
But let’s start with the basics: In the States, kids are often invited a month in advance for a birthday party from 2-5 pm. Lovely. In my experience in Mexico, you could be invited the day before for a party at “4”, which EVERYONE advises you not to arrive until 5 at the earliest, a la Mexi-time. An intentional late arrival makes me squeamish as I wouldn’t want to offend the host, but as others point out – the host might not even be there if you arrive at the exact time (and then where are you?!), and anyway, what’s the rush? The party will go on for hours… no host in Mexico would ever impose an ending time – THAT would truly be rude.
I have never been invited to a dull party here – children’s birthdays are celebrated with abandon and a full cache of families and friends. They are generally a rich blending of activities, not unlike those we entertain in Los Angeles, delicious food, and traditions.
My favorite custom of singing the “Dale, Dale” song has given way to “mordida”. But the “Dale, Dale” song is a fun way for everyone to participate while one child beats a piñata to a pulp. I say it that way because I’ve often witnessed sweet little girls in princess attire (or for that matter, sweet little boys) baffled by why they should be hitting the floating castle with candy… thank goodness, someone usually jumps up, happy to demonstrate wild behavior to break it open. And only once have I seen the actual stick break before the piñata does. Either way, “Dale, Dale” keeps everyone in line (3 swats and you’re done) and involved.
Cascarones are great – hollowed out eggs with confetti. They are an awesome time consuming craft and can create quite a mess, but confetti alters moods like only the pop of a nice champagne bottle can. In Antigua, Guatemala, the novios purchased them to squash over amorous heads as a flirting technique when circling the town square on foot. We made them for Easter, since they’re eggs. But traditionally in Mexico, they are used for particular celebrations – like birthday parties. We made about 3 per person for Easter, totaling around 2 dozen minus the ‘bad eggs’, of course… But my friend brought out a plastic storage box the size of a laundry basket filled with cascarones. She had to beg the kids to finish them up – there were so many that adults jumped in! …another refreshing aspect I love in the Mexican culture… adults welcomed to act like children, again It is SO fun.
So aside from the bouncy houses, clowns and games, pony rides and piñatas, cascarones, and SCRUMPTIOUS FOOD, our hands-down favorite tradition is “mordida!”. This, I tell you, is not solely reserved for children’s parties – as witnessed when celebrating 39 years of an amigo one Friday night.
Traditionally, the cake is brought out as everyone sings “Las Mañanitas”. After the candles have been blown, the excitement builds. “Mor-di-da! Mor-di-da!” is chanted in unison. Supposedly, somebody well positioned behind the birthday person, then gently aids in pushing his/her face toward the cake. Truthfully each time I’ve seen it, the birthday boy has welcomed the opportunity and without prodding, into the cake a whole face flies! The crowd always goes wild! It is hysterical – every time!! It is also completely shocking to the uninitiated… which can be seen in the face of my daughter. I am told that every ‘good’ Mexican family has an album for each child documenting the frosting faces over the years. What a treasure – that’s the album I would keep in a fire proof safe, along with a viewing copy on my coffee table.
The party never ends until the last person leaves. We’ve definitely carried home sleeping children from another child’s birthday party, because the celebrations never cease! And while my children’s heritage is a smattering of European ancestry heavily weighted toward the Irish, their cultural capital most certainly includes some Mexican traditions.
***All photos courtesy of Amy Conroy